Thursday, February 17, 2011

"Parallel Lives": Racism behind the NFHA Diversification push

This is downright offensive, and I'm not one that gets my underwear in a bunch very easily over racial stuff. OK, maybe I am sensitive to racial issues. Usually, though, I don't feel this level of offense. This time, though, it's different.
The new National Fair Housing Alliance radio ads pushing neighborhood diversity essentially say that all white people look, act and think a like and you can learn nothing from living with a bunch of other white folks. That much is stated explicitly in the ads. Also explicit is the notion that living next to people of different backgrounds will make the lives of you and your children "richer." Of course, that assumes that such people actually have something of interest to offer. They must have some sense of culture to share. If' they're a bunch of Jerry Springer watching mouth breathers, I wouldn't expect to learn much from them.
What's similarly implied is that white people have little or nothing to offer our society. Communities can only experience true growth and vitality by getting a little piece of this and a little bit of that from various folks in the melting pot. The evidence for this is never stated. Granted, we're talking radio ads, not scholarly treatises. But I suspect there's no real data that proves "people of color" to be any better contributors to their communities than plain boring-ass old whities.

You can hear the ad I heard this morning at this link

I've seen this stuff from many angles, despite the fact that I'm just a generic white guy. I grew up in an all white neighborhood, but I was raised by a Puerto Rican father with dark skin. Some -- very little -- Spanish was spoken in the house, we observed a few customs on occasion and ate our fair share of Puerto Rican dishes. I had to deal with racial comments directed at home because of his accent or the color of his skin. Blacks, Arabs, Hispanics or other so-called "people of color" would not have been welcome, at least not by some.

I also spent a considerable amount of time in my grandmother's neighborhood in Detroit. By the late 70's, a neighborhood that had been all white in the 1960's, was almost entirely black. The 3 remaining white families on the block clearly were not welcome to stay, at least not by some of the neighbors. There are very ugly, frightening incidences directed toward us about which I'd rather not speak at the moment. I can say, though, that while many blacks made it known they wanted Grandma out, others came to my rescue when I'd get picked on by neighborhood bullies.

That is to say nothing of my experiences living in a college community or in the two places I've lived as an adult. Every where I've lived has had a different feel to it. No two places have been alike.

Alot of that is somewhat beside the point. Ultimately, trying to get to why I'm bothered by this radio ad and the National Fair Housing Alliance. Besides the radio ad's blatant anti-white racism, I'm teed off by the lie that people that "look alike," meaning have the same skin color, must be alike. In the all white neighborhood in which I grew up, no two families were a like in anything other than skin color. Some went to church. Many did not. Many rooted for the Detroit Lions. Some rooted for other teams like the Pittsburgh Steelers. Some were alcoholics. Some were teetotalers. Some were educated (meaning they had college degrees) but most others were lucky to have graduated from high school. Many could fix cars. Some wouldn't even bother trying. Some ate traditional dishes past down to them by their parents or grandparents. Others lived on McDonalds and Little Caesar's pizza. We didn't even speak a like. Because more than a few families were descendants of transplants from the south, some kids even in my generation talked a little like "hillbillies." Some even said, quite amusingly, "I'm part hillbilly" when sharing their ethnic background. You get the idea.

The same was true for my grandmother's mostly black neighborhood in Detroit. We didn't know the neighbors as well, personally, but we saw how they related to us. Some were quiet and kept to themselves. Some were "decent church-going folk." Others were troublemakers and bullies. Some came to my defense, protected me. Others bullied and intimidated me. The neighborhood was a bad place to be, but that wasn't because everyone was the same. They just weren't.

In that case, contrary to what the National Fair Housing Alliance would tell you, diversity was actually a divisive thing. There were three white families, one Mexican family and a Chinese-owned business on the corner of the block. When people didn't get along, that was usually triggered by someone in the neighborhood wanting to rid the area of the remaining white families. There was resentment expressed toward the chinese business owners. Not surprisingly, that business left the city maybe 30 years ago.

I had rich experiences growing up, but not because I was exposed to all the cutesy little things some would have you believe comes with diversification. I saw the ugly, hateful side of it. You know what I learned? Some people make lousy neighbors, others make good ones. Color doesn't seem to be a factor. I also learned that people kind of prefer to live with their own kind, so to speak. That's not because every single one of them is a clone of the other, but because commonality creates a comfort zone. I know that's changing, and that's probably a good thing. But it shouldn't change based on a lie. It shouldn't change by telling people, "Hey, you should live with people of color because white folks are all the same and you can't have a 'rich life' living with them."

If you want to live in a mixed neighborhood, do it! There are positives. If you don't want to for whatever reason, don't do it. You'll learn plenty from whomever it is that you live around and deal with on a daily basis, regardless of skin color.

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